Now that lent has begun, seems right for Historicalness to look at another side of food (besides key lime pies and king cakes).

1) An interesting article at NYTimes.com this week called “How Exercise Fuels the Brain” discusses how hungry the human brain is and how we’re starting to understand better how it feeds itself.

It also highlights findings from a new study that indicates animals who exercised regularly (here, over a 4 week period), built up more fuel reserves in the brain (in the form of glycogen) — you also get temporary bursts of glycogen if you exercise but don’t do so regularly.  This led the author of the study to say ” ‘it is tempting to suggest that increased storage and utility of brain glycogen in the cortex and hippocampus might be involved in the development’ of a better, sharper brain”.

Maybe that’s why I seem to come up with some of my best ideas — like Historicalness.com! — when I’m on a run.

That's me, all the way in the back

2) In a related piece, Harvard Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Daniel Lieberman, in this 13 min video, “Making the World Smaller,” discusses how, before humans began to form agricultural societies and we were hunter/gathers, would exercise — by necessity — 9-15 KM per day (or, for those of us who don’t speak metric, 5.6-9.3 miles per day).

We love to eat and pack on fat to feed our big brains and enable us to hunt & gather.  Today, we still enjoy rest and fatty foods to feed our hungry brains, but there’s no longer the hunter/gatherer imperative to catch our meals or eat healthy foods.  As he says, “We evolved to: enjoy rest, but to have to exercise; crave fat, sugar & salt, but have to eat wild foods”.   So we eat more and exercise less.

As a result, today we intake 300-900 more calories on average than even our great grandparents did.  Prof. Lieberman argues that since we can’t change our biology, we should change our environment — starting by mandating exercise in schools (or at least at Harvard).

Do any universities that you know of currently mandate this?  Please email me at matt [ @ ] historicalness [ dot ] com if you know of any.

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